Salt and sodium: The facts
Salt, also known as sodium chloride, is about 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride. It adds flavor to food and is also used as a preservative, binder, and stabilizer. The human body needs a very small amount of sodium – the primary element we get from salt – to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain the proper balance of water and minerals. But too much sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Most Americans consume at least 1.5 teaspoons of salt per day, which contains far more sodium than our bodies need.
Know your limits
The government recommends limiting daily sodium intake to one 2,300 milligrams (one teaspoon). However, nearly 70 percent of US adults are at risk of developing health problems associated with salt consumption, and the American Heart Association recommends that the following at-risk individuals should limit their daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams (2/3 of a teaspoon):
- People over age 50
- People who have high or slightly elevated blood pressure
- People who have diabetes
- African Americans
Given that the majority of US adults are at risk of developing health problems related to salt consumption, nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health, the American Heart Association, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have called for the U.S. government to lower the upper limit of daily recommended sodium intake from 2,300 milligrams to 1,500 milligrams per day (2/3 teaspoon of salt).
Read about the recent controversy surrounding national guidelines for daily sodium intake here.
Ninety percent of adults will develop high blood pressure at some point in their lives. Learn more about how high sodium intake can lead to disease.
The aim of the Harvard T.H. Chan of Public Health Nutrition Source is to provide timely information on diet and nutrition for clinicians, allied health professionals, and the public. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The information does not mention brand names, nor does it endorse any particular products.